It really wasn't Madonna in concert or UFOs streaking across the sky. But you might have thought so if you happened to be stargazing on certain nights in the White Mountains last fall. Hi, I'm Dave Thurlow and this is the Weather Notebook.
What some people in the New Hampshire highlands observed in October was LIDAR, one of the latest developments in weather instrumentation. LIDAR stands for Light Detection and Ranging. It's a technology that's been around for a few years, but the one being tested in the Granite State is a newer generation, called GroundWinds, developed by the Michigan Aerospace Corporation.
It consists of a laser mounted in a telescope and it works like this: to put the instrument fires a pulsed beam up through the atmosphere and can see the Doppler shift in molecules passing through the beam. The computers controlling the LIDAR convert the measurements of these shifts into wind direction and speed at altitudes up to 40,000 feet.
The GroundWinds project, funded by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), through a subcontract to the Mount Washington Observatory from the University of New Hampshire's Institute for the Study of Earth, Oceans, and Space, will serve to help calibrate and validate wind measurements in the upper atmosphere using LIDAR technology in association with the planned NOAA mission WEATHERSAT. WEATHERSAT is intended to provide accurate and precise global measurements of upper level wind speeds necessary for the improvement of next generation forecasts.
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